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You have to assume that with 70 per cent or so of the electorate hostile, what we're seeing is the end of the Harper regime, whether it's done cleanly in the upcoming election or in a second one after a period of chaotic minority government.
And when Stephen Harper does go down, it will be a shame if he does so merely because the economy took a downward turn, because it's "time for a change," because of scandal in the Senate, or any of the other more or less conventional reasons pollsters and pundits carry on about.
If so, the country will have avoided facing the larger reality. This is not an election like any other. What's at stake is nothing less than the integrity of Canada's most fundamental features -- the justice system, the electoral system, the public service, the tax system and Parliament itself -- all of which Harper has relentlessly assaulted and would complete the job of reducing to his personal playthings if only enough people could be kept deep enough in the dark to give him one more majority.
It has been a mark of Harper's manipulative genius to keep all this under the radar. It has also been the signal failure of the opposition parties to raise their sights and crystallize these crucial arguments against him. (Thursday's leaders' debate brushed past all this -- a segment on "democracy" dealt mainly with electoral reform, the Senate, the role of MPs and so on).
For years now, it has been my immense frustration that the opposition leaders don't keep a handy mantra of these abuses, updated virtually daily with every new and under-reported Harperist outrage, that they could repeat at every public speech.
Granted that the troublesome weakening of our democratic instincts in a culture of egotism and narcissism makes the gradual erosion of fundamental rights and freedoms a hard sell as an issue, at the same time making it all the more imperative to raise it. And the media -- meaning primarily television -- are hardly more enlightening, and would face the same general public yawn even if they were.
This yawn is pure gold for Harper. The Harper assault on the rule of law -- done under the long cloak of questioning "liberalism," but in reality an ugly power grab in line with the corporatist philosophy of the U.S. Republican Party -- has been amply documented, and a number of books written. For a handy recent rundown, go to voices-voix.ca, where a coalition of some 200 civil society groups like Amnesty Canada and Democracy Watch have a report entitled "Dismantling Democracy."
Along with the dismantled watchdog bodies, the fired and muzzled scientists, the harassment of charitable organizations with tax audits, the totalitarian instruction to federal librarians to "demonstrate loyalty" to the regime even when off duty, the dismissal of evidence in favour of ideology in policy and legislation, and on and on, you might note this: cuts in staff at the Department of Justice are such that legislation riddled with errors has been passed, usually hidden in democracy-mocking omnibus bills. Some have been, and others probably will be, knocked down by the Supreme Court.
The Harperist mentality is not to fix this, but rather to try harder to rig the courts (so far even Harper's appointed judges have gagged at his legal predations), as concerns rise in legal circles about some of his appointments, including his latest to the Supreme Court, an Alberta judge who was only a few years ago, as a law professor, blogging the Harperist line.
The point here, however, is that Harper doesn't give a hoot about books and people who read them, or about people who read newspapers, for that matter. The game has always been to target what they were once calling the "Tim Horton's crowd," meant to refer to "the common people," but in reality a euphemism for the distracted, those who don't follow politics except marginally, the easily panicked, the ignorant, and those most susceptible to being bought off and swayed by attack ads.
I'm not sure in which category I'd put a guy I know who's always blowing hard about politicians, but who, a few weeks before the last election, referring to Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, asked me: "Who's this American the Liberals are running anyway?" I marvelled darkly at the effectiveness of Harperist propaganda.
All that being said, this is going to be the longest campaign ever and there's still time -- time, hopefully, so that it can be made clear even to the distracted what's at stake, so that Harper can finally be dealt what this manipulative government, which he fancies as Canada's new "natural governing party" (as though we need such a thing) truly deserves: not merely defeat, but a shattering of this party which is, in fact, an unnatural one-man would-be despotism.
Ralph Surette is a freelance journalist in Yarmouth County. This column was first published in the Chronicle Herald.
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